alienating America's natural constituency in Iraq

It is the time of the year for top ten lists – top ten hits, top ten best books, top ten worst movies. And of course, everybody’s top ten flop, the defeat of the U.S. in Iraq. We are ending up with a normal week – 500 plus Iraqis murdered, 33 U.S. soldiers ditto. Hollywood flops bleed money, this flop bleeds both money and blood. But in D.C., as in Hollywood, you can fail to the top - there will be laughs at the National Press club next year as our president does his imitation of a mass of Iraqis being blown to bit by a car bomb. Talk about funny...

So what went wrong? Dream cast, brilliant photo ops, a strong return to the war theater by old Cap’n Rumsfeld, voted sexiest psychopathic rightwinger of 1985 and still bulging that wrestler honed physique, and introducing Sonny, the Rebel in Chief playing Rebel with a Cause against former marquee magician, Sr.

Among Rumsfeldian deadenders, reference to other occupations, other times are still de rigeur. It is true that allegories of occupation weren’t the guide the deadenders thought; but partly this is because the deadenders never really looked at those occupations. The WWII reference debased itself about 2004, and only surfaces in the slimier parts of the Net, where eager Islamophobes congregate to swap saliva and dreams of mass murder, glassing deserts, flaying the bodies of Moslems, and perhaps even raping the women (although not so much – the homoerotic glorying in twisting the entrails of the dead enemy about one’s neck, the notion of decapitating, of burning the skin off of, of crushing the skulls of infants – this is the all American fantasy of this group of middle management white males. If the Insurgents out there have a moment, they might want to turn to, say, the RedState blog and translate into Arabic the comments that have accrued about what to do next in Iraq. Talk about a motivator for attacking Americans!). However, there is something to be learned about American foreign policy by looking at America’s previous wars.

The thing to learn is simple. America’s wars since 1945 have largely depended on appealing to a constituency, in the targeted country, made up of the upper and upper middle class. This class is the natural American ally. This was the class that the Occupation authority appealed to in both Japan and Germany. This was the class that gravitated towards the U.S. in South Korea and South Vietnam. This was the class that, bitching and moaning, has carried out U.S. friendly policies in Latin America.

It was with this history, sublimated into instinct, that Jay Garner arrived in Iraq in 2003. And it was this history that made it possible, for a historic moment, that the Iraqi upper and upper middle class, which had endured Saddam Hussein with varying degrees of enthusiasm until the debacle of Kuwait, and endured him with silent dissent thereafter, would form their natural alliance with the U.S. But Garner was quickly sidelined, and the U.S. embarked on a program that utterly alienated both the poor and the upper and upper middle class. The question is: was this program simply the result of the personal failings of the Bush nomenklatura? Or is there some interesting pattern emerging here?

The old pattern of interventions went along with the strictures of the post depression New Industrial State. These structures had adapted to state intervention without excessively ideologizing its day to day workings. That Europe adopted a Social Democratic economic structure, gave a stronger role to unions, etc., didn’t really get in the way of American co-operation. However, with the rise of Reaganism and the fall of the Wall, the equilibrium shifted. The new policy could be labeled – why not have it all? why bargain with those lousy rentseekers and government contract nichemen when we could sweep them out by enforcing mass privatization and introduce the 2.0 capital markets shell game, taking their wealth and seamlessly integrating it into the international flow of capital in Friedman’s ‘flat world’. While the personal shouldn’t be entirely discounted – a man as ignorant and vein as President Bush, and a clique as ideologically mad as that which swirled around the Wolfowitz contingent in the Pentagon, and a person as corrupt in all respects as Rove, clearly created a unique set of circumstances that would have fucked up the invasion of Monaco, much less Iraq – the thing about what happened, under Bremer, in Iraq is that, by all accounts, nobody is quite sure who had the ideas. These were puppets of the post-Cold War Zeitgeist, flatlanders by instinct. And thus, quickly, America’s natural constituency in Iraq, the aforesaid uppers, turned against the Americans in pure self protection, while of course American policies impacted heavily on the poor. Still, there was the brief hectic period that can be seen in any country colonized by neo-liberal policies – the explosion of debt and consumer goods. But in Iraq, that explosion took place while the infrastructure visibly degraded – hard to run your new Mercedes on a road that is bumpy with bomb craters and impeded, every few miles, by checkpoints.